Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Barton Creek Greenbelt

A few weeks ago, we went out to the Barton Creek Green Belt (link goes to annotated map) for some light hiking. Enjoy the pics!

As far as a review goes, I'd have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the size and proximity of the green belt (I think seven nearly-uninterrupted miles within minutes of downtown Austin), but disappointed in how filthy the place can be. Citizens leave all kinds of litter everywhere and too many people fail to carry doggy bags (provided by the city at the trail heads, even!) so you have to be careful where you step. Also, mountain bikers blaze down the narrow trail, so keep your eyes & ears peeled. I could see spending a few more days exploring other sections of the trail, but only really because it's so close, not because it provides anything novel or isolating. I give the BCGB a 4 out of 10 on my random scale of park reviews, mostly because it's too crowded. Let me put it bluntly: if my little brother and his wife (both big outdoors/hiking folk) came to visit us, I probably wouldn't take them here. On the plus side, we did get to see a pair of black vultures up close, as they were shoulder-to-shoulder in a tree right beside the trail.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Two Great Days

This time last year, we were in Southern Laos, spending time in Vientiane and at a somewhat-disappointing eco-lodge / rural village called Ban Pako. Lately, we spend a lot of time wishing we were traveling and re-living those amazing 240 days we spent in Asia, as well as all the fun we had planning and the great effort it took to actually make the trip. Last Friday, I re-read an old post of our friends J&M, who returned from Asia several months before us. The post is called "A Year Ago Today" and Jennifer pines for adventure of traveling, and more so about the hopefulness she experienced in planning the trip. We IM-ed about it a bit, and lamented that while both of us can regularly recall with vivid detail things we'd done one year ago or more, these days in the "real world" go by without fanfare or memorable experiences. The immediate and huge rewards reaped by traveling and living day-to-day from a backpack, on the other hand, are easy to recognize and I think in general, people take unfortunately little time to reflect on the purpose of most days. As Jennifer says,

I know there is more to life. And believe it or not, even though it may sound totally cheesy… we’re always standing on the brink of an adventure of a lifetime. Sometimes it’s just a lot more obvious. But doesn’t the challenge (and a lot of the fun) lie in finding what is not obvious?

I totally agree. And on that note, I'll explain why I've been talking about all this: This weekend, Justine and I had two of the best days we've had since returning to the States. We were productive, impulsive, got to visit some new places, and we were proud of ourselves for what we accomplished in two short days. These are exactly the kinds of feelings we had while traveling, and as a result, I'm happy to bring you a post about two great days we had in America!

On Friday night, we went out to dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant (which I reviewed in a post here) with some friends. Then, early Saturday morning, Justine, Emily and I went to the Center for Environmental Research (an Austin Water facility) at the famous birding location known as Hornsby Bend (at least one famous Hornsby is buried in the family cemetery here). We helped clear brush from a historic farmhouse that the city is trying to rehabilitate, then took a guided walk to the Lower Colorado River. We were lucky enough to see loads of birds, including osprey, American white pelicans, cardinals, crested caracaras, turkey vultures, black vultures, red-tailed hawks, and more. Also, the weather that morning was gorgeous.

After we returned, we were starving, so we headed out to our favorite taco truck around the corner, Torchy's. As soon as we got out the door, our friend Joel walked by on his way to Torchy's, so we ate with him and decided that it was such a nice day, we should have a BBQ at our house that evening. [Just last week, we had picked up a tailgate-sized Weber and were itching to get it fired up!] So a few hours later, Brandon, Joel, Emily & Alaina showed up for veggie skewers of eggplant, mushroom, potato, onion, garlic, and green peppers, coated in Justine's home-made olive oil with freshly-crushed rosemary. MMMMMMM!

So that evening went on pretty late, but we had already made plans to meet up with Alaina for brunch on Sunday morning. So, early the next morning (10 is early when you've been up drinking all night!), Alaina, Joel & Brandon showed up and we headed over to the Woodland on So. Congress for an early brunch (I had already had cereal, fruit, coffee and milk and had been up for nearly 2 hours, but anybody who has lived with me could have probably guessed that!). We had eaten there before with some other friends for dinner once, and they recommended the place as a good breakfast joint. Indeed it was! Eggs Florentine, grits with cheddar cheese, quiche, and a green tea vodka are a nice way to wake up in Texas!

Having returned to our place by noon, we decided to spend the rest of the day turning an old and unused garden patch in our communal backyard (our duplex and two others share a single large space... we're on the furthest west end and the garden patch is in the middle). This entailed ripping up weeds for several hours, tilling the dirt, composting and mulching, and then planting. But first we needed supplies, so Plant Escape and Home Depot were the next two stops. We got a few different types of tomato, some eggplant plants, and some peppers. The garden had some herbs and veggies that have survived from before (cilantro, parsley, sage, leeks, potatoes, celery, and possibly carrots) and we have some garlic and spinach growing in a planter box on our porch already, so we didn't need too much. The rest of the afternoon, we raked and pulled, pulled and raked, dumped rocks and old dried up tomato plants, moved bricks and garbage out of the plot of land and got very dirty and sweaty. We didn't have time to finish it, plus we don't yet have mulch or enough new dirt/compost, but next weekend we'll finish turning the soil and make a small raised area in the middle of the patch to plant our food. It was very fun.

Then we had another BBQ that night, just the two of us, and had a perfect ending to an amazing, productive weekend. On top of all that, we also managed to clean our place, go grocery shopping, spend some time reading, do the laundry, and all the other stuff we try to get done each weekend. It reminds me just how much you can experience and accomplish in just a few hours, and how by putting a few things together, and being impulsive, you can really get a lot out of an otherwise "normal" day... Thanks for reading!

[Enjoy more pics of the BBQ and gardening here.]